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Sodium Nitrite in Processed Meat and Poultry Meats: A Review of Curing and Examining the Risk or Benefit of Its Use

Released November 9, 2011

Executive Summary

Curing with nitrite has been used, essentially, for thousands of years to produce safe and nutritious products and to effectively preserve meat. Since the controversies about the safety of nitrite that started in the mid-20th century, much has been learned about nitrite and heme chemistry and the overall metabolism of nitrogen oxides in humans. 
Curing practices in the meat and poultry industries have been adjusted using the knowledge obtained about nitrosamine risks. The ongoing research focused on the metabolism of nitric oxide, nitrite, and nitrate appears to reaffirm the safety and benefits of current curing practices. 
The challenge to meat scientists is two-fold. 
  • First, is to continually broaden their understanding of curing in the context of human physiology and metabolism of nitrite and to keep current on the medical literature in this area. 
  • The second is to effectively educate a broad community of public health scientists, nutritionists, and the general public about the fundamental role of nitrite in biology in order to address their unfounded fears and concerns about adverse health effects from consuming cured meat and poultry products.